Residents and campaigners against fracking said ‘the fight goes on’ after Lancashire County Council’s decision to delay making a decision on whether to allow shale gas exploration at two sites in rural Fylde.
Many villagers were left in tears, many angry, at County Hall after the Development Control Committee said it had no option under law but to put back its decision after gas firm Cuadrilla submitted an application for a deferral.
Planning officers last week recommended refusal for the two fracking sites at Roseacre and Little Plumpton, on noise grounds for both, and concerns over traffic at Roseacre.
Cuadrilla then said it had new information and measures to mitigate against noise and traffic problems and so asked for a deferral to consult with all parties over the new information.
After taking advice from the county lawyer the committee ‘reluctantly’ voted for a deferral which could now mean a delay of at least eight weeks before they return to consider the application.
But today Roseacre and Little Plumpton villagers said they would re-group and fight on, using the delay to garner support and build their cases against the applications.
Pat Davies from the Preston New Road Action Group said: “I’m not really surprised but we are all very disappointed in this deferral.
“I detected the councillors were reluctant to have to do this and I have a certain sympathy for LCC. It means we will have to regroup and fight again.
“It is just that we are ordinary people from the area, having to take time off work and pay for experts and advice to prepare our case and then it is put back and we have to do all that again. Cuadrilla has had plenty of time to put its case together. As recently as January 12 they sent a letter to the council saying they could not further mitigate noise levels,but as soon as the officers reject the bid, they come back and say they can further reduce noise and ask for this deferral.
“I believe the mood of the country is changing away from fracking and we believe we can still win.”
Barbara Richardson, from the Roseacre Awareness Group, said members were added: “We are very frustrated, Cuadrilla has thrown a spanner in the works with this late deferral. We don’t yet know what Cuadrilla have put on the table but we will have to look closely at it.
“I have written to the council to ask for them to let us see the applications as quickly as possible.
“The most important thing is the council has said that we will all be given the chance to do our presentations again, the 30 minute ones and the four minute ones, which will give us a chance to improve our evidence.
“I was in the council chamber and saw all the various people waiting to speak.
“What I think would be a good idea is to have a debate with Francis Egan from Cuadrilla, the North West Energy Task Force, the Chamber of Commerce and the others who support shale gas and the residents and campaign groups to see where they get this evidence of all the jobs that they say would be created and the money that will flow into the county.
“We believe that support is growing for us and the more that central Government stick its nose in the more people in Lancashire are saying that it should be a local planning decision.”
Helen Rimmer from Lancashire Friends of the Earth said: “We are very disappointed.
“However, this will give us more time however to build our case and grow support even further across Lancashire.
“While a further delay is another setback for Cuadrilla – its manipulation of the planning system has created more uncertainty for communities whose health and environment are at risk from controversial fracking.
“The county council must resist Cuadrilla’s ploys to push fracking through and listen to the tens of thousands of voices of opposition and reject these plans. Failure to do so will leave Lancashire as the UK’s guinea pig for this unnecessary and polluting technology.”
Greenpeace UK energy and climate campaigner Simon Clydesdale said: “Allowing more time for Cuadrilla to tinker with their application is not going to change the fundamental fact that fracking is a massive gamble with low returns for the people of Lancashire.
“The councillors should look again at the mounting evidence of fracking’s environmental, health and climate impacts, and put the well-being of their communities before the interests of the shale lobby.”
Cuadrilla boss: ‘I understand the frustration’
After the meeting Cuadrilla boss Francis Egan said: “We recognise the careful consideration that Lancashire County Council has given and its subsequent agreement to our request to defer the determination of our planning applications.
“The additional information we have provided on further mitigation measures will, we believe, fully address the noise and traffic concerns raised by the Planning Officer’s in their recommendation to refuse planning permission for both sites.
“This additional information will be assessed by the Planning Officers and there will now be an opportunity for the public to properly review and comment on this.
“I accept people have spent a lot of time and effort preparing for the meeting. I understand the frustration. People have been preparing to speak against the application and many preparing to speak in support of it, but it’s better everyone has the full information to make the decision on.
“The committee and the officers need time to consider the mitigation measures and we have to consult locally so it is just part of the normal planning process.
“Cuadrilla has been asked five times to delay for various reasons and this is the only time we’ve asked for a delay.”
Mr Egan said although the officers’ report was a disappointment because of the recommendation to refuse on the grounds of noise and traffic, he said it showed that other issues people were concerned about such as the environment, air quality, health and water were not problems and that the two they did have concerns about were just normal issues that might happen at any planning site which could be addressed.
In a statement, shale gas supporter group the North West Energy Task Force said: “We understand why the committee has voted to defer its decisions. We also recognise the frustration of those who wish to see decisions taken, including those who wanted to support the proposals.
“It’s important the new information on noise and traffic is now fully assessed by the council and the public can have their say on the remaining issues around truck traffic and noise.
“The NWETF firmly believes the natural gas from shale industry can play a crucial role in the revival of the North West economy.”
‘Councillors very unhappy’
With hundreds of campaigners outside County Hall – including pop star and anti-fracker Bez from the Happy Mondays – and a convoy of tractors from farmers opposed to fracking, councillors were advised by legal officers to discuss the deferral plea in private.
This was due to the sensitive nature of parts of the discussion which could mean legal proceedings later .
They left the council chamber and returned after around 50 minutes to announce their decision to delay.
Chairman of the committee, CounMunsif Dad, apologised to residents, campaigners and supporters of fracking for the deferral but said doing otherwise would have left them open to legal challenge.
All applications, the bids to drill and frack up to four wells each at Preston New Road, Roseacre and associated applications for monitoring were put back so that officers and councillors can consider noise and traffic mitigation amendments from Cuadrilla.
Speaking at the hearing, Fylde West Coun Paul Hayhurst said: “There are a lot of councillors here very unhappy about having to do this.
“There has been quite a lot of discussion already and people from Fylde and elsewhere have taken a lot of time and put in a lot of effort for this hearing and we are very concerned that we have to defer this.”
County Coun Steven Holgate added: “I’m downright angry. I feel that we as a county area being undermined to an extent.
“There are too many people dipping their fingers into this responsibility that should be the county’s to determine. That goes right to the top in this country.”
Change to frack traffic route set to involve new villages
Other villages in Lancashire were set to join the fracking issue as Cuadrilla’s plans to reduce traffic issues near Roseacre brought consequences elsewhere.
One of the proposals to tackle objections to its plans to frack at Roseacre Wood, near Elswick, is to bring traffic in through Broughton and Woodplumpton near Preston.
Residents have been urged to study the plans carefully and comment before Lancashire County Council’s development control committee reconvenes to consider Cuadrilla’s applications in around eight weeks time.
Cuadrilla has said further sound proofing at the drill sites could get the noise levels down to 37 decibels at Roseacre and 39 decibels at Preston New Road.
Woodplumpton parish council clerk Julie Buttle (pictured) said: “The proposals will have to be advertised so that the parish council and residents will have to chance to comment on the proposals.
“The parish council will make a collective decision on the proposals at its next meeting .”
Cuadrilla has said it is confident it can address councillors’ and residents’ concerns relating to both sites.
The gas exploration firm says in its letter to the parish council that its original plans were for a two-way traffic flow of HGVs running from Roseacre Wood south to the A583 junction at Clifton.
Planners raised concerns about traffic movement through nearby Wharles.
The company, which wants to hydraulically fracture – or frack – two sites by way of deep drilling and the use of water and chemicals to free the gas, said it had since been working with the Ministry of Defence, which owns the HMS Inskip site.
It had now obtained agreement from the Secretary of State for Defence allowing it to traverse the site, thereby removing nearly all HGV movements running through the village of Wharles.
The alternate route for HGVs inbound to the site would be from Junction 1 of the M55 and along the B5269 via the A6.
The outgoing traffic would go from Roseacre Wood south to the A583 at Clifton.
Ms Buttle said now that Cuadrilla’s applications had been deferred, the new proposed route would be in the public domain and consultation was needed.